MusicMusic Features

Dennis Reed, DJ Fannie Mae Bring Sainted Trap Choir to the National Stage

Choir prepares to perform live on 'America's Got Talent' after making it through first round

DJ Fannie Mae and Dennis Reed wear black while book-ended a group of a dozen members of the Sainted Trap Choir wearing tan outfits.
DJ Fannie Mae (far left) with Dennis Reed (far right) and members of the Sainted Trap Choir. (Photo by Jess the Rookie)

With all the editing and scripted nonsense that goes into reality television, it’s hard to tell if what you’re watching has even the slightest hint of reality. But if you watched the episode of America’s Got Talent that aired on June 6, you’d know there was a segment that carried with it an undeniable, unfalsifiable realness.

One can’t script the energy that the Sainted Trap Choir brought onto the stage in Pasadena, California that night. But anyone who’s been to one of the Sainted parties held at The Underground back home in Charlotte, organized by local music icons DJ Fannie Mae and Dennis Reed, knew about that energy long before the two performers and their two dozen choir members hit the national limelight.

Nor could judge Simon Cowell deny it … nor would he want to … as Fannie Mae told him “We’re from the South so you better watch your mouth” seconds before the performance started in that episode.

The group was not surprisingly passed along to the next round, where they’re expected to perform again in a live episode on Aug. 22.

More specifically than the South, the Sainted Trap Choir is from Charlotte, where they first hit the stage of The Underground for their experimental hybrid show featuring trap hip-hop songs sung in a gospel style back in February 2020.

Complete with a domineering setlist drawn up by Fannie Mae and props that included pews and church fans, the group sold out The Underground for that first show, justifying the months of planning that Fannie Mae and Reed had put into it.

“To be there was electrifying. I mean, it was like literally floating on the cloud,” Fannie Mae recalled of that kickoff show. “And I remember just seeing people’s reactions, like, mind blown … And so I think that’s what’s been carrying us since then. Even it happening right before the pandemic, just the energy off that one show carried us through the pandemic and it’s why we were able to pick back up and now have the blessings that we have in this season.”

DJ Fannie Mae wears a green cap and black suit onstage with the Sainted Trap Choir at the Lincoln Center in Brooklyn, New York
DJ Fannie Mae (in green cap) onstage with the Sainted Trap Choir at the Lincoln Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Elliot Ashby)

Having traveled in the same circles for years, Reed and Fannie Mae had met in passing many times before, but early in 2019 Reed began telling Fannie Mae they needed to connect for a collaboration he had been thinking about. Fannie Mae didn’t think much of it.

“I’m like, ‘Aight bet, whatever,’” she remembered. “A lot of people have ideas and say they’re going to do stuff. But he called me randomly and was like, ‘I have an idea I want to do, it may sound crazy, but I want to do a trap choir.’ I’m like, ‘Bro, that doesn’t sound crazy. That sounds like my wildest dreams.’”

The idea struck a chord for Fannie Mae thanks to her upbringing in the Southern church.

“Being church kids, we sing everything very churchy,” she told Queen City Nerve. “It’s just something that we do. It could be the most raunchiest song, but we’re going to make it churchy and put some praise on it.”

Reed, founder of local youth empowerment-through-arts organization Inspire the Fire, gave Fannie Mae the idea and let her run with it, connecting her along the way with people from his robust network built over decades in the industry. Many of the folks currently in Sainted are also Inspire the Fire alums.

The Black church still plays a large role in Reed’s life, which has both made this project all the more special to him and led him to question it at times, he told Queen City Nerve.

“I still actively work in church,” he said. “You can find me there every week, every Sunday, leading worship, working with students, working with the youth, working with choirs, all of this. So when [Fannie Mae] initially came up with the name Sainted and then she created some of the content, the flyers where we were actually in clergy collars — she really has a creative mind and she likes to push the limit, right? So even then I was like, ‘Okay, God, you’re okay with this, right?,” he continued, laughing.

“But it’s a whole lot of fun. And at the end of the day, for me, it’s about artistic expression of Black culture. So, it’s different in the concept itself, but there are some familiar elements about it because there’s a lot of similarities between what I do in a church environment and what we do with Sainted and the different environments that we’re honored to perform in.”

Members of a Black church trap choir perform on stage wearing camo outfits
The Sainted Trap Choir (Photo by J. Lamar)

The two have since resumed regular shows at The Underground, also taking things national with a performance at the Lincoln Center’s 2023 Spring Gala Celebration on May 2 and in front of the country on America’s Got Talent. As the two await the Sainted Trap Choir’s live August appearance on the show, they’ll continue on their own separate projects.

For DJ Fannie Mae, that means working as the house DJ for Charlotte FC, a gig that’s inspired her in ways she couldn’t have imagined when she accepted.

She recalled the recent Gold Cup matches at Bank of America Stadium, which brought the national teams from Honduras, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago to Charlotte. Working the traditional sounds and popular songs from each respective country into her playlists was a beautiful challenge, she said.

“It’s just a very, very humbling yet rewarding experience because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” she told Queen City Nerve. “I never wanted to be in a box. I don’t want somebody to be able to say I’m one thing. I don’t want to be monolithic in my life. I feel like we’re just all people and we’re people of the Earth, so we should appreciate all things. And music allows me to walk in that fully.”

As for Reed, he’s set to celebrate Inspire the Fire’s 21st anniversary on July 29. He’ll also continue to work with longtime clients like Jodeci, who kick off their new tour in Charlotte that same day; and Fantasia, with whom he’s currently co-producing a new gospel album.

Dennis Reed kneels onstage while hugging one child and speaking to the crowd while dozens of children wearing Inspire the Fire t-shirts stand behind him holding a banner that reads RISE
Dennis Reed (front) with the youth of Inspire the Fire at a past event. (Photo by Autumn Lynn)

Even with everything he has going on, he sees Sainted as something much bigger than him and DJ Fannie Mae. He hopes the city will tune in when the group appears back on national television for the good of the local music community as a whole.

“This is our chance to make a mark and create a powerful impact,” he said. “Charlotte has never had a lack of talent. We’ve had several breakout acts come from our region, but there’s something powerful when people can unite and if they can vote and if they can showcase the true potential of our community, I think that’s when our true greatness as a city can be realized.

“Regardless of whether this is your style of music, or even if you dislike or disagree with the concept itself, we are Charlotte, we are from the South, we are products of this environment, and we need everybody to rally around us to really make change.”

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